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The Jihadists are coming! The Jihadist are coming… by Alemayehu G. Mariam

November 26, 2006

By Alemayehu G. Mariam

Here we go again! Trot out the Somali jihadist bogeyman (aya jibo). Get out the smoke machine and mirrors. Show time! Act I: Narrator Zenawi: “Somalia is becoming a haven for terrorist. The sheiks of terror have declared an unholy war on Ethiopia, and the U.S. of A. They are on the outskirts. This is the time for all good men and women to come to the aid of their country. Patriots and countrymen, defend the homeland!” Blah, blah, blah…

When the going gets tough, the Zenawi Road Show gets going. And these are indeed very tough times for Zenawi. The floodlight of truth has been trained on him over the past couple of weeks, and he has had no place to hide. He desperately wants to divert the attention of Ethiopians and the international community. Enter: Somali jihadist bogeyman. Let’s get the show on the road! Not just yet, buddy…

No doubt, the last two weeks have not been kind to Zenawi. He has been stuck on the international stage with the spotlight on him, and the world saw him for what he is: An emperor with no clothes. No more talk about the “new breed of African leader,” first among equals in a “new generation of African leaders” committed to human rights, democracy and economic development.

The truth about the post-election massacres came out in the most unexpected forum. Zenawi had planned to have his Inquiry Commission put on a show for his parliament. But he couldn’t stage manage it. Instead, the truth was hand delivered to the United States Congress in a briefing, by none other than Inquiry Commission chairman and senior judge Frehiwot and vice chair and senior judge Woldemichael.

The facts ascertained by the Commission are shocking and incontrovertible: at least 193 men, women and children protesting the election results were murdered by Zenawi’s security forces. Over a thousand demonstrators shot and wounded. 65 prisoners of conscience executed in cold blood in a hail of machine gun fire in Qaliti prison. (Compare all this to the Sharpeville Massacre on March 21, 1960 when apartheid South African police opened fire and killed 69 African demonstrators protesting pass laws and injured as many as 300.)

But that was not all: The commission determined that no property was destroyed by protesters. Not a single protester was armed. Shots fired by government forces were intended not to disperse the crowd, but to kill protesters by directing fire to their heads and chest areas.

The report was not sensationalized. It was a dispassionate factual account of the Commission’s investigation, and the forensically meticulous methodology used in documenting the killings and the gross abuses of human rights. In the final analysis, Judges Frehiwot and Woldemichael presented a devastating indictment of Zenawi and his regime for crimes against humanity.

Zenawi desperately tried to keep a lid on the truth. But truth always has a way of getting out, even though Zenawi tried to keep it from seeing the light of day by turning off the power that lighted the offices of the Inquiry Commission.

Zenawi knew the jig was up, but he pleaded with the Inquiry Commission for hours: “Please, pretty please, change your conclusions. Just don’t say it is the government’s fault.” He tried to seduce them: “I will give you riches, whatever your heart desires. Just do it the way we did the Anuak report. Blame the victims.” Frehiwot and Woldemichael sat in stony silence, listening to Zenawi ranting and raving.

Then he gave the commissioners a stiff lecture on the jurisprudence of “excessive use of force.” (Such legal buffoonery must have amused the judges, but I suspect they must have reserved a measure of pity for Zenawi.) He cajoled them: “Your report is very important to Ethiopia’s international image. Your conclusions about government responsibility in the massacres will harm the country. I appeal to your sense of patriotism. Destroy this report and issue and new one favorable to the government.”

When he sensed his words were falling on deaf ears, he reminded them of his standard operating procedure: “You change your analysis and conclusions, or.…” That was it! Time to get the hell out of Dodge. And the two judges were out of there before sundown, with the evidence bagged and in tow — reports, documents, videos, audios, the whole kit and caboodle.

What a great disappointment — and a shocking surprise — it must have been to Zenawi when Frehiwot and Woldemichael looked him straight in the face and said with steely resolve: “No deal, Zenawi. We don’t sell the truth. We expose it!” How proud we are of these men of courage and valor!

“What now?” Zenawi must have asked himself in stunned disbelief. “Are there really Ethiopians who will not sell their souls in exchange for a house, a car or luxurious lifestyle? These guys would rather live with nothing in a strange land than live a life of luxury and comfort at the cost of a little white lie? What the hell is happening in

Well, I can imagine why Zenawi would be flabbergasted. No offense to anyone, but these are the “new breed” of African leaders, “vanguards of change” that Tony Blair and Bill Clinton were really talking about. Woldemichael Meshesha, Frehiwot Samuel, Mitiku Teshome, Alemayheu Zemedkun, Getachew Jigi, Teshale Aberra, just to name a few among thousands of other young Ethiopian leaders who would rather live in exile than continue to serve a tyrant, and be tools of terror and oppression against their own people.

Zenawi says, “but they worked for my government all these years. Now, they are saying these lies just to get political asylum in the West. They can’t be trusted.” Sure, they desperately tried to be instruments of good in an evil system, but in the end these young people learned that in an evil system one has very limited set of choices: be part of it and try to change it, and in the process risk being changed by it, destroy it or in the process be destroyed by it, or escape from it. In the end, they chose to escape, and did so by the skin of their teeth. Now, Ethiopians the world over salute these heroes, champions of human rights who used the truth not only to bring light on the darkness of Zenawi’s regime, but also to defend their people and set them free. Hallelujah!

But Zenawi does not want to talk about the truth. No, he wants to talk about the jihadist bogeyman from Somalia. (By the way, when did the warlords grow up to be jihadists, anyway?) He wants to tell the world that the Somali jihadists are on the warpath; and watch out Ethiopians, and Americans too for supporting Christians and Jews. Pleeease, give me a break!

Classic Zenawi: When the going gets tough, distract the public’s attention. These are hard times for Zenawi. Recently, he went to the European Union to deliver a speech on development and good governance. (It reminded me of a speech once given by Idi Amin on human rights.) Someone remarked that Zenawi’s speech at the EU was not unlike the devil preaching the gospel. But he did not get to preach. The crowd in the gallery booed and jeered him. He had to stop after a few minutes, visibly shaken. But there wasn’t a damn thing he could do about it. He could not arrest or jail his hecklers. Impolite and rowdy hecklers, but free people nonetheless who have the right to say whatever they wanted, including the epithets “murderer,” “killer” and “dictator.” If the shoe fits, wear it, I say.

But I wondered how Zenawi must felt at that moment, to have a rowdy bunch shut him up cold; and prevent him from speaking, expressing his thoughts and ideas about things he feels are important to Ethiopia and Africa. It couldn’t have been a good feeling. But that moment, Zenawi must understand, is “groundhog day” for ordinary Ethiopians who are trapped in a time loop where everyday is like the day before: Not allowed to speak their mind, not allowed to read their favorite newspapers, magazines or books. Not allowed to visit their favorite websites. Not allowed to listen to their leaders. Not allowed to be themselves. Not allowed… (Zenawi ought to share his feelings about his experience at the EU with the journalists enduring in his jails. I bet they would have something common to talk about.)

But that day at the EU, Zenawi learned a real lesson in democracy and human rights: The right to free expression means not only the right to expound on sublime and lofty ideas, or profess the party line or regurgitate the official ideology. Freedom of speech also embraces the right to heckle, pester and tease politicians! Heckling, even if it is rude, is a protected form of expression in the West, particularly when a politician is on the stand.

So, the hecklers won the day, and Zenawi did not finish his speech. In a way, I wish he had completed his speech. Perhaps he might have been able to share with the world his special expertise and insights in the use of indiscriminate killing of rambunctious but harmless demonstrators to establish good governance, or the special use of mass arrests and imprisonments to accelerate the economic development of Ethiopia. We’ll never find out now.

But, in all sincerity, Zenawi could have stolen the show at the EU and earned the respect of the world, and enjoyed watching his hecklers and critics dumbfounded and confused. He could have started his speech with something like: “The foundation of good governance is admission of mistakes by leaders; and God knows I have made my share of mistakes, as has my regime and party. It was a tragic mistake that 193 men, women and children were shot and killed and hundreds more wounded by my security forces. It was a terrible mistake to imprison the opposition leaders. It was wrong to have allowed the massacre of the Anuaks…. But, it is never a mistake to acknowledge a mistake and make amends…I am deeply sorry…”

Zenawi would have set a new standard, a historic milestone, of transparency and accountability in the practice of good governance. That was his golden opportunity to redeem himself in the eyes of his people and in the court of world public opinion. But in his usual style, he will not miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity; and so he let the hecklers win the day.

Back to the jihadists. The Somalis say they want to drive out the Ethiopian invaders from their country and reclaim their territorial integrity and sovereignty. Ethiopia admits having a contingency of expeditionary forces in and around Baidoa. The Somlais say Ethiopia is preparing to make war against Somalia and break up their country into permanent clandoms. They have no choice but to fight, they say.

In all fairness, their argument is not unlike the arguments Zenawi made when Badme was occupied by Eritrean forces. Back in 1998, Zenawi’s Foreign Ministry declared: “Eritrea has committed aggression against Ethiopia in violation of international law. Eritrea’s unprovoked and naked aggression is a crime which cannot be justified by any pretext of border dispute.” See any parallels there?

But Zenawi spins a nice yarn about the threat of radical Islam in the Horn, and the insufficient response from the international community to deal with the threat. “The international community could have done more, and should have done more,” he said. The drumbeat for war on the Somali jihadists is deafening. “Somalia is going to be another Iraq or Afghanistan. The Horn is teetering on the brink of war. Al-Quieda is spreading its tentacles throughout East Africa. All the Westerns experts agree. CNN says it’s real, so does the BBC. We need to get the international community to support Ethiopia in its fight against terrorism and Somali jihadists. Ethiopians, quick, circle the wagons! The Somali jihadists are coming!” (I wonder if the jihadists are telling their people: “The infidels are already here! The infidels are in Baidoa! Let’s drive them out!”)

But wait just a cotton pickin’ minute! Amnesty International, Human rights Watch and the U.S. State Department all say, Zenawi’s regime is among the worst violators of human rights in the world. Western experts say Zenawi’s regime commits gross violations of human rights, and he keeps thousands of political prisoners in the country, and conducts mass arrests and extrajudicial killings. The U.S. House of Representatives has made legislative findings on gross violations of human rights in Ethiopia in H.R. 5680. CNN has reported on it, as has the BBC. To echo Zenawi: “The international community could have done more, and should have done more.” About human rights in Ethiopia, that is. But it hasn’t.

So, we got a problem. Mr. Zenawi says the Somali jihadists are lurking behind every desert rock and boulder. He wants Ethiopians to come out and fight them in every hamlet, town and city. We say, the gross violations of human rights continue unabated. We want Ethiopians to come out of the jails and prisons and rejoin their families. We want them to come out into the streets and peacefully express themselves, show their opposition to government policies and actions, engage in constructive dialogue with their fellow citizens and enjoy basic human rights, which according to Zenawi’s constitution is the natural right of every Ethiopian citizen. So, what do we do? Which way do we go?

Surely, Zenawi must know that it is pointless to ask Ethiopians to come out and circle the wagons when they feel they are themselves victims of a political war he has declared on them. They seem infinitely more afraid of his regime and security forces than any wildeyed Somali jihadist they had never seen. Pray tell: What would the Somali jihadist do to them that Zenawi’s regime has not already done to them anyway? Ummm!

Common sense would suggest that it is hard to convince Ethiopians to come out and fight a jihadist bogeyman when they are themselves fighting for survival, everyday, against a regime that terrorizes them and keeps them in a state of perpetual fear and misery. It is hard to excite them to rise up in a fit of patriotism and rummage the featureless Ogaden desert in pursuit of an invisible jihadist when they are themselves hunted down like rabid dogs in their city and town streets, jailed, tortured and murdered.

It seems futile to sound the bugle of nationalism and jingoism when thousands of Ethiopians languish in jails for no other reason but for supporting democracy and exercising their human rights. The problem is the Ethiopian people can not fight two wars at once: defend themselves in a political war declared on them by Zenawi and his regime, and mount an attack on a distant and invisible enemy rattling sabers somewhere in the “failed state” of Somalia; an enemy, by the way, that seems incapable of bringing the whole of Somalia under its control let alone expect to win a war against a vastly superior Ethiopian military (so say the experts).

But the whole jihadist business smacks of political fantasy. It’s surreal. Mr. Zenawi says the Somali jihadists and their Al Qaeda partners should be opposed and defeated because they are undemocratic, anti-democratic, oppressive and authoritarian. The jihadists don’t believe in human rights and do not allow political or social dissent. They are fanatics who want to impose one-party rule, and do not believe in a democracy where the people elect their representatives. Duh!!! Has Mr. Zenawi looked at the mirror lately?

Now, we have a choice to make. We can follow along the Zenawi Road Show and entertain ourselves with stories of Somali jihadist bogeymen, Mickey Mouse and the Easter Bunny. Or we can stay focused on the real issues of human rights, civil liberties, the rule of law and democracy in Ethiopia.

I shall keep my eyes fixed on the 800 pound gorilla in the living room that Zenawi does not want to talk about or acknowledge: How about freedom, democracy and human rights in Ethiopia, Mr. Zenawi?

Well, if you are not inclined to answer my question, good luck on your road show: “The Jihadists are coming, the Jihadists are coming… ”
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